Five matches into the 2018 New England Revolution season (3-1-1) and we know several things about this team already:
There’s a different edge about The Boys In Blue in 2018: Without playoff soccer on Route 1 the last two years and with a new manager in former U.S. international goalkeeper Brad Friedel taking the blessed reins of this Original Ten club, the Revs have a distinct, fevered — dare I say renewed? — energy about them. There’s competition for places in the starting XI and the bench—amazing what having a little bit of depth will do — and as we’ve all heard, Friedel doesn’t let the players know who’s in the 18-man matchday squad until two hours before kickoff. That means everyone is working hard in training, trying to out-do the other to get playing time. No one’s job — good God, that’s Lee Nguyen’s music! — is safe. Not a bad philosophy.
There’s no fear in the Revs’ attack: Over the past two seasons — and if you want to be frank, even during 2015 — there were times where the offense wasn’t exactly ruthless with the football. I took note of one instance during the 2016 U.S. Open Cup semifinal with Chicago where Leominster’s Diego Fagundez had acres of space inside the penalty area with no one marking him, the Upper 90 begging for targeting … and he turned the ball over. That’s not the case this year (at least so far) and using a few matches ago against NYCFC as an example, New England’s high line of pressure caused New York City’s back line headaches and created turnovers, which led to a great many opportunities in the first half. Against Houston, New England was opportunistic as Teal Bunbury scored his 2018 opener, and so did Cristian Penilla. This is a confident bunch of attacking players.
The defense has, at times, played incredibly well: Former manager Jay Heaps never liked it when I discussed defense with him (stupid reporters), and you have to admit that even some the best teams in Europe have had their defenses called “shambolic” (why do you think Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain, and Barcelona are running away with their leagues? Other defenses can’t keep up, have marking issues, what have you) by the press, but let’s face facts, kids: the New England defense has been much maligned (hello, self) over the years, and with good reason. While the offense has been confident over the years, the defensive unit ... hasn’t. The Revolution have a little bit of depth there in 2018, and they have — to a point — performed above expectations.
And seriously, expectations for defense are low. We know no one is willfully making sliding stops on the plastic pasture of Gillette; the fans hope the attacks fizzle with the opposing strikers blazing over with Row Z Specials. Momentary lapses in concentration and effort have done plenty of damage to the Revolution’s goal difference, and that’s has been the defense in a nutshell over the last few campaigns.
This season, though … New England posted back-to-back clean sheets (that’s a shutout, for those of you non-soccer fans who I will try to convert over the next few months), have relatively kept their shape save when New York City FC shredded the defensive midfield with one of the best counterattacks on the entire planet that weekend, and have benefitted with a little bit of consistency in the centerback pairing of Claude Dielna and Revs’ newcomer Jalil Anibaba.
We’ll see how they handle themselves against better competition.
There’s still some serious dead weight on this roster: This may be one of those takes I come to regret.
After the 2016 season concluded, I wrote a piece for my local paper which basically said the team should shed some of the players dragging New England into mediocrity. I listed the names of seven players I wanted to see gone.
As of today, one of those seven remains on the roster, and he has started the last four matches. That player is 28-year-old Teal Bunbury.
The last two seasons, he wasn’t the same Teal Bunbury from 2015, or even the same Teal Bunbury from his days with Sporting Kansas City. Earlier in this season, he had momentary flashes of intensity during the NYCFC match, but he was poor off the ball against Colorado, and his passes weren’t as crisp as we’d like.
But in the last few matches, Bunbury looks positively renewed. His energy is high, like the others in the starting XI. He’s presenting problems for the opposition’s backline as well as the goalkeeper, especially as these teams are stupidly starting out of the back. And he’s also scoring goals, which is always helpful.
So in this inaugural piece, I offer a mea culpa to Teal. I may have doubted you, but you’re proving a lot of people wrong.
(I also reserve the right to change my mind should you go into the toilet. Consider this a kick in the rear.)
However, there may be a few other players on this roster who aren’t likely to get better, given their age. They may be serviceable players and likable players who are personable — yes, that’s absolutely fantastic from a marketing/fan relations perspective — but serviceable and likable and personable doesn’t put a soccer team in a position to win trophies. That being said…
It’s been 10 years since the Revolution have lifted a trophy (the 2008 SuperLiga). The fans want more.
Is 2018 the year?
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